Sep 24

From the Town Administrator's Desk - September 24, 2021

Posted on September 24, 2021 at 8:22 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Two Big Issues Remain Front and Center
By Gregory T. Federspiel

As a community we have been dealing with large issues that have generated a lot of interest and concern.   Lots of opinions abound and the debates have turned contentious at times.  Sharing different viewpoints and perspectives is healthy and ultimately can lead to better decisions if we all remember to keep the debate civil and avoid personal attacks.  I am a firm believer in local decision making, despite how challenging it can become.   I also hold firm to the notion that people can have honest disagreements on the best course of action without being disagreeable/accusatory toward each other.  

Our continuing debate regarding the best way to provide public service dispatch is a good example of how differing perspectives leads to different conclusions.  This a not a battle between what is THE right approach.   Rather, the choices one favors depends on which outcomes you value the most.

A fundamental question at the heart of the dispatch debate is whether two dispatchers should be always available to have the capability of dedicating one dispatcher to a large incident from the very beginning of that incident.  It is not surprising that our Fire Fighters/EMT’s place a high priority on this capability.  While thankfully it does not happen very often, if a firefighter is rushing into a burning building, they want to know that the dispatcher is not having to juggle other calls, that their full attention is being given to the incident at hand.  Police Officers typically do not face this same level of need and thus are generally more comfortable with having one dispatcher on with an ability to bring in a second dispatcher a little later into a large incident.  

The dispatch discussion will continue at the Selectmen’s meeting on October 4th where additional details regarding the financial and operational impacts of the two basic choices – staying in-house or moving to the regional center -- will be reviewed.  If the conclusion is that we should have two dispatchers on for large incidents we still need to decide if we want to provide this level of service by: 1) bringing in a second dispatcher after the incident is underway, 2) place two dispatchers on duty all the time in-house, or 3) go with the dispatch service the regional center can provide.  If Selectmen decide to pursue the regional option, the next step is to formally request a feasibility study by the State.  The results of the study would form the basis of a contract proposal from the State which becomes another decision point.  

A second big issue that has taken up considerable time and attention and will continue to do so is the proposed 40B project at Shingle Hill by Strategic Land Ventures, SLV.   After spending months seeing if the developer and the Town could come to terms on an acceptable project, the negotiations ended without agreement.  SLV submitted their application to the State to proceed as a conventional 40B project.   Just the other day MassHousing issued a letter of eligibility for the project, allowing the applicant to proceed with applying for a comprehensive permit before our Zoning Board of Adjustment, the ZBA.

The letter from MassHousing acknowledged the many concerns that the Town and others have about the project and encouraged the developer to address these concerns during the comprehensive permit process.  In essence, MassHousing declined to get into the substance of the concerns punting to the ZBA for its review and, assuming an appeal of the ZBA decision is made by one party or another, to the State’s Housing Appeals Commission, HAC.   

Assuming that the application is made to the ZBA, the Board will begin a series of public hearings on the details of the project, what waivers are being sought from our regulations in affect at the time of application and assessing the appropriateness of the proposal.  This likely will be a lengthy process involving many hours of hearings with presentations by various experts hired by the proponent as well as opponents of the project.

At the end of its process, the ZBA will issue a decision either denying the project or approving it with various conditions.  In either case there is the strong likelihood the decision will be appealed to the State’s HAC and beyond.  It could take years for this process to unfold.

There is no lack of issues that the Town must tackle.  There will always be differing opinions on how best to address these issues but regardless of these differences we can treat each other respectfully and trust that in the end we all have the best interest of the Town in mind.   

Sep 20

From the Town Administrator's Desk - September 20, 2021

Posted on September 20, 2021 at 4:08 PM by Tiffany Marletta

The Central Street Culvert/Central Pond Project
By Gregory T. Federspiel

For the past few years, a considerable amount of study and analysis has been conducted of the dam/culvert that crosses over Sawmill Brook as in empties into the inner harbor and the upstream dynamics, including the tidal pond behind the Fire Station.  The brook has caused considerable flood damage in past storms and the old dam and stone culvert (last reconstructed in 1900), which restricts water flow, is in poor condition. MADOT’s most recent inspections of the culvert in November 2018 and 2019 further classified it as having a “Severe/major deficiency” that should be addressed ASAP.

The dam and culvert on Central Street are critical pieces of infrastructure.  We cannot afford an unplanned collapse or for MADOT to shut down the culvert for vehicular traffic. Emergency repairs were done four years ago but this was a temporary fix that has only gained us a few more years of use until a complete rebuild of the structures can be accomplished.

Engineering for the reconstruction is nearly done.   A larger culvert with removal of the constricting tide gate (which only restricted flow out, not in as it is overtopped every high tide) will help prevent flooding upstream during significant rain events.  The new culvert will be built to today’s engineering and construction standards.  A stone façade will replicate the look of the original structure.  

The construction of the new structures will be challenging given the small space to work in and the utility lines that cross at this same location.  The major electrical feed for all of Cape Ann crosses at this point as does a water main, NGRID gas pipeline, and Comcast/Verizon ducts; the sewer main fortunately passes below Sawmill Brook and will not be impacted.   Flow from Sawmill brook must be always maintained during construction, along with any increased flow from rain events and storm surges.  The tides will also affect the project and may limit the contractor for some aspects of work during high tides. The contractor will need to have large pieces of equipment and materials onsite which further restricts the limited project area. Many of the necessary permits place restrictions on when and how the work can be performed. For example, the DEP 401 WQC permit stipulates we are not allowed to perform “in water work” (which is necessary for most of the project) between March 1 and June 30 due to rainbow smelt migration in Sawmill brook. 

These complicating factors prevent the project from being done while maintaining one lane of traffic.   Thus, during a six-month period there will be significant stretches of time when all vehicles will have to detour around the site.  We hope to be able to maintain pedestrian access across the brook, however there are very limited locations out of the work zone for safe passage that could accommodate a pedestrian bridge and will require securing temporary easements from private landowners.

Our current projection is for the construction to begin a year from now.  We are a contender for a large FEMA “BRIC” (Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities) grant of approximately $4.5 million to pay for the nearly $6 million project.  We will know about the grant award by the first of the year.  

The project also includes work upstream.  The retaining walls along the east side of Central Pond are in poor condition with stretches of the old wall having fallen into the brook.  These walls will be rebuilt, and the brook restored to its natural state with salt marsh grasses reestablished in the current mudflats. The banks on the west side will be fortified with “living shorelines” to protect it from further erosion while maintaining the natural look. Other options for treating this stretch of the brook were the subject of workshops and presentations before the Board of Selectmen.

The brook serves as spawning habitat for endangered rainbow smelt and American eel.  Removing the tide gate and restoring the brook to its natural state will have the added benefit of improving this habitat.  

As the actual reconstruction start date gets closer, more details about project timing, how detours will be managed, and what communication strategies deployed will be further developed.  The project, while very necessary, unfortunately will impose temporary hardships given its central location.  

Sep 10

From the Town Administrator's Desk - September 10, 2021

Posted on September 10, 2021 at 11:59 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Public Safety Dispatch Forum Next Tuesday
By Gregory T. Federspiel

The Selectmen will host a public forum regarding options for providing public safety dispatch services on Tuesday, September 14 at 6:30PM.  This will be another virtual forum and the Zoom link can be found on the Town’s Web site under the meeting calendar.  The Board is aiming to decide within a few weeks whether to re-invest in our in-house service or switch to the regional service offered by the State’s North Shore Regional 911 Center in Middleton.

Background information regarding the debate about how best to provide dispatch services for our fire and police operations can be found on the Dispatch page of the Town’s web site. Current operations are described as well as various options moving froward ranging from doubling our current services to provide two dispatchers at all times to relying on the regional service to provide all dispatch needs.   Costs associated with the various options are presented.  

We are at a decision point – the time has come to either re-invest in our current operations or switch to the regional service.  In-house operations need a new computer-aided dispatch software program and, at a minimum, a fourth full-time employee.  Staffing weekend shifts with part-time workers or paying overtime to police officers has been difficult of late.  

We have one dispatcher on duty at a time.  During a complex call like a life-threatening medical emergency or an active fire situation, the dispatcher ideally is giving full attention to the incident.  However, if other calls come in, the dispatcher must juggle both the incident and the new calls.  For larger incidents we try to bring in a second dispatcher, but this takes anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.  This lack of a second dispatch person being immediately available is a major reason the Fire and Ambulance Department favors moving to the regional service which can provide multiple dispatchers without costing the Town more money.  The Police Department favors keeping the operations local.  

If the Selectmen decide to pursue joining the NSR911 Center, the next step would be the completion of a detailed feasibility study.  The Center would undertake this 2-3 month study to determine the details of providing dispatch service for Manchester.  A similar study was completed this summer for Ipswich. The feasibility study is the precursor to a contract offer from the State.  While we fully anticipate that the contract would be for 10 years at no cost, as was the case in Ipswich, we will not know for sure until our study is completed.  

If the Town were to accept the proposed contract from the State, the NSR911 Center would begin the process of setting us up to receive their services.  This is a year-long process covering everything from the physical connection of communication lines to having dispatchers ride with our public safety personnel to become familiar with the Town including entering landmark locations into the dispatch software that may be used when a 911 call comes in. Months of training take place before the switch is made.  Thus, if we were to switch over to the NSR911 Center, it likely would not take place until January of 2023 at the earliest.

As outlined in the materials on the Town’s Dispatch webpage, numerous options exist for providing the Police Station Reception service dispatchers provide.  Obviously if we keep dispatching services in-house we do not have to change how we service the small amount of walk-in traffic the Station sees.  

We have identified the choices that are before us.  It is now time to make decisions to ensure we continue to provide top-notch dispatch services for our public safety operations.  The public forum on the 14th of September provides another opportunity for residents to learn more about the choices we have and to express your opinion about which choice you would prefer.